Monday, June 23, 2014

Checking In to Check Out

The weather gods are doing their best to make us want to stay.  The sky is perfectly blue, the air is soft and warm, there is light in the sky until past 10:00 P.M. and dining outdoors is practically mandatory.  We have had drinks in the tiny garden of the apartment with two separate sets of guests and the birds continue to wake us in the morning.

On the other hand, June 21 was la Fête de la Musique, a countrywide celebration that goes on into the early morning.  In the past we have wandered around the city listening to street bands in many areas and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  This year I couldn't walk too far, my twisted ankle having resolved into a fractured metatarsal, and we got as far as the church of St. Eustache, with its incredible organ.  An organ concert was just the thing and we really liked it.

After a horrible dinner (Pied du Cochon, next to St. Eustache, used to have quite good onion soup despite its tourist bent.  No more!) we went home only to discover a very very loud private concert in the courtyard next door, complete with lights and bands.  It went on until about 3:00 Gene tells me.  I zonked out about 1:30, noise and all.  Sunday was perfect until we came home in the afternoon to discover a little girl's birthday party in the apartment upstairs.  About a 9 on the Shriek-o-Meter.  Luckily it didn't last as long as the concert had.

The most annoying thing that happened this week however was the decision by a number of the unions representing French air traffic controllers to declare a five day strike, beginning tomorrow, the day we were scheduled to fly to London to pick up our homeward bound United flight.  We heard of the strike plans while we were in Normandy, called a journalist friend to confirm the online rumor, and immediately bought tickets on the Eurostar.  We did not get, as you can imagine, a budget price buying at the last minute.  Nevertheless if all goes well we should make our flight as scheduled.

We will be happy to get home, where we will spend the rest of the summer without budging from Berkeley before a return to Paris and to Italy in September.  See you then.

Photos are at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In the Country

I have always admitted my preference for cities over countryside, perhaps mentioning it too often.  When I asked B. to recommend a place we might spend a few days out of Paris she asked if I were sure.  I was.  I had suddenly yearned for a drive on narrow roads, passing cows and sheep grazing in the fields and stopping to explore towns always called Saint-something or other-in-somewhere.

Not only that, two days before heading to the maison d'hôtes B. had raved about, we were invited to Sunday lunch at C.'s place in the country about an hour outside Paris, despite her concern that I might miss the smell of bitumen.  It was super, a wonderful lunch in a huge garden with rosé to drink and lots of delicious food.  And what better way to finish the afternoon than a visit to a local brocante and a walk in the nearby village.  Except that on the walk I managed to turn my ankle, which proceeded to balloon up so that I hobbled to the train and had to take an expensive taxi ride back home from the station.

Making a long story a bit shorter, it improved enough over the next two days so I could wrap it in ice and navigate the car from Montparnasse station to a lovely house set in gorgeous gardens in a tiny village near Alençon, called, yes, Saint Denis-en-Sarthon.  Just up the road from Saint Céneri-le Gérei, one of what the French call "Les Plus Belles Villages en France".  Gene much preferred driving on the right side of the road on this trip, our marriage was not tested, and we had a lovely time.

Despite our best efforts and directions from everyone we asked, we were unable to find the Crypte Saint André in Mortagne-au-Perche, described to us by a road worker as formidable.  We also spent quite a bit of time driving tiny roads trying to find the Chateau d'O, marked on a map of chateaux in the area, but apparently owned by someone who dislikes visitors.  We finally came across it entirely by accident, hiding behind its high walls and locked entry gates.  Very intriguing.

The Chateau de Médavy, also a bit shy, doesn't open for visits until "real" summer, which to the French means July and August.  We did visit the Chateau de Sassy, home of a library of 30,000 books and visited in 1968 by Queen Elizabeth, who was given a horse from the Sassy stud farm as a parting gift.  Her bedroom remains untouched since then.  I presume it is dusted from time to time.  It looked fine.

All in all, lovely trips to the country, despite the injured foot.  This should do me for some time.  Paris looked great when we got back.

Photos can be found at

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Burgers, Bagels and Begging

Several things have struck me as new to Paris since we were last here and none of them make me very happy.  You may recall my posts several years ago about the influx of American food.  Not so long ago it was difficult to find a hamburger, particularly a good one, in Paris.  Granted, most American visitors aren't here in search of a great burger, but the occasional craving wasn't easily satisfied.

This visit it is hard to avoid the nearly ubiquitous burger joints. Places specializing in hamburgers are all over the place, particularly in the gentrifying quartiers.  Traditional cafés have given way to Le Burger.  There is a very successful place called Big Fernand around the corner from the apartment.  And adding insult to injury, its next door neighbor is a fish and chips shop.

As an aside, I have also noticed that the more traditional salade niçoise has been replaced in many cases by the salade César, which for the French means romaine, Parmesan and always, always, chicken. Not an anchovy in sight.

As if the hamburger invasion was insufficient, the other every-other-storefront surprise is the bagel.  Yes, the French have fallen in love with the bagel, or at least something round and called that.  Having neither the desire nor the courage to try one, my evaluation is based only on the look of the pale, soft things in the window.  I do recall several years ago being invited to a pot luck brunch here and asked to bring bagels.  That required a several day search and I finally found them in the upscale Bon Marché food hall, in a plastic package.  Plus ça change...

Amusing as all this may be, the really upsetting change is the proliferation of families, apparently immigrants of Central European appearance, spending days and nights on mattresses on the street.  Most often it's a mother and one or two very small children, sometimes there is a man as well.  I'm used to the young Rom women begging on the street and the haggard old men begging in cafés, but entire families living on the street on a mattress is more than startling.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 6, Many Years Later

A little boy of about four just walked by my table on the sidewalk and told me in a very excited voice and accompanying wide arms, "I just had an enorme pizza!"  This was a couple of minutes after we were greeted by someone we knew who was passing by.  A few minutes later I recognized the clochard who lives on our block on his way home I suppose.  This is still a real neighborhood and I'm beginning to recognize faces.

Last night we went out for a drink in the hot evening air and walked quite a way searching for just the right place, not too stuffy, not too sunny (the sun was still bright at 9:00 p.m.) and not too crowded.  We wound up at Café de Nemours in front of the Comedie Française, not realizing that we had arrived between sets of a small brass orchestra not far off.  It was fine, actually.

By the time we got hungry the only thing we wanted was a hamburger.  Yes, I know it's Paris but the darn things are everywhere, and the café in the Palais Royal garden had a cheeseburger as the plat du jour!  Apparently everyone else was also in the mood and they had run out.  Not willing to give up we moved on to rue d'Argout, where we know we could find Blend, one of the best burgers around.  Unfortunately Blend has no outdoor seating and it was just too hot to be indoors.

We finally shared a cheeseburger with bleu d'Auvergne (this makes it French food, n'est-ce pas?) next door at Vintage.  I think we were the only ones on the entire street actually eating, although the other 100 or so people enjoying the evening were certainly enjoying various beverages.

Earlier in the day we had seen the Intimate Impressionists exhibit at the Musée Marmottan, a lovely selection of small works almost all in private collections.  This is one of my favorite kinds of shows, one that offers the opportunity to see things that are virtually never going to be available to be seen unless you travel in circles other than the ones I travel in.  The Marmottan is next to the Jardins du Ranelagh in the 16th arrondissement and the grass was  nearly covered with groups of teenagers released from school into the lovely day.  Most of them had McDonald's sacks.

We didn't join them, choosing instead to lunch on the terrace of a restaurant nearby.  We realized that we were near someplace that we'd been meaning to visit for years, the Albert Kahn Museum and Gardens in Saint Cloud, just a couple of metro stops away.  This was the ideal time to go and we did.

Albert Kahn was a self-made millionaire of the late 19th - early 20th century who was fascinated by the rest of the world and decided to send photographers out to document it.  Thousands of autochromes, an early color process, and moving films are available to see, but for us a walk in the gardens, designed to represent different national styles, was the best.  Two Japanese gardens, one traditional and one contemporary, an English garden, a French garden, two different forest landscapes, a wetlands, all in probably 2 acres of land.  A super way to spend a summer afternoon.

Today is alternating between rain and sun. We're off to meet Clotilde in the Palais Royal, where there is a choice of open garden and covered arcade.  It's all in the planning.

Photos are at

Friday, June 6, 2014

In Touch

Communication has become an addiction, I fear.  Waking this morning, I realized that the wi-fi in the apartment was not working.  I felt a clutch at my heart.  Not able to check the news? Not able to check my email? It felt like part of myself was missing.  This is not a healthy feeling.

I'm not even someone who is always texting or on the phone.  I don't get a million emails, I'm not a social media junkie, I'm not on Facebook and I don't tweet.  But cut off my bandwidth and I'm a nervous wreck.  Sounds like addiction to me.

When we first started traveling many, many, many (enough already!) years ago, we relied on snail mail sent to American Express offices in cities along our expected trajectory.  If we changed our plans we missed our mail.  That first trip was for seven months and my family back home and we sent each other audio tapes so we could connect at a deeper level than a mere letter or postcard.  International phone calls were prohibitively expensive but we phoned once a month just to assure the folks at home that we were still alive, on a Greek island where you had to book a phone call in advance, or in the Paris post office where you had to go to the desk, be assigned a calling booth and return to the desk to pay at the end.   No Skyping on those days.

As you can see, my wi-fi came back.  A great sigh of relief and I headed straight for this blog.  I guess connecting with you was one of the things I need to do.

Photos are at

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maybe It's Summer After All

It's  the second sunny morning in a row and although I don't expect it to last, it feels really good.  The forecast this week is up and down, with a storm expected on Wednesday, but the following week looks good, and summer may be a-comin' in, lhud sing goddamn.  (Although for Pound it was winter. One of those lines of poetry that, once learned in school, sticks in the memory no matter what else goes. Forgive me, the sun is making me giddy.)

We've ramped up our activities a bit, having had dinner with several different friends and lunches with others.  Our first dinner out was at Les Enfants Rouges, a new restaurant in the Marais, a choice made by B. who lives near there.  What she didn't know was that the chef is an old acquaintance of ours whom we met when he worked behind the counter at Avant Comptoir, our St-Germain hangout.  He was quickly promoted by Yves Camdebourde to cook at the Relais de Comptoir and six months ago opened his own restaurant with his wife running the front of the (very small) house.  They've received good reviews and even a mention in the NY Times.  Dinner was excellent and it was good to see him.

Lunch yesterday on the terrasse of Mini Palais before the Monumenta exhibition was super. It's a gorgeous space  in the corner of the Grand Palais.  Huge columns supporting the roof many feet overhead make you feel as if you're lounging in a painting by one of those 19th century English painters who reproduced their own version of antiquity, someone like Alma-Tadema.  Except for the foie gras. Mmmm.

Monumenta itself was boring. The overwhelming feeling we all had was that the money must have dried up and what was produced were maquettes for what the original idea had been.  There was little attempt to really use the enormous volumes of the Grand Palais, which is the point of this annual exhibition.  B. told me that last year Monumenta was cancelled on budgetary grounds.  Maybe this year's version should have been as well.

Since today is Saturday and sunny, we're heading off to the flea market at Clignancourt, one of the wonders of the shopping world.  Not a flea market as we understand it, it's a huge collection of antique and bric-a-brac shops under the same few roofs, some extraordinarily expensive, some reasonable and a few, very few, real bargains.  As someone who shrieks with joy when I pass an antique shop on a country road, it's heaven for me.

We've actually bought some things in the past, when the dollar was significantly stronger than it is now, but looking is fun nonetheless.  Any real shopping is best done on the other end of town at the Porte de Vanves flea market where goods are laid out on tables and blankets along the sidewalk and bargains can be found at the end of the day when vendors would rather not repack their goods.

Photos are at

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Not Too Arty

Maybe it's because we saw so much art in Italy, but we haven't yet rushed off to visit art museums here in Paris.  That is not to say we haven't gone to museums, we have, but the definition of museum seems to take in a numbere of other categories if things to view.

A quick perusal of what's available to see turned up a couple of things that are nearing the end of their tenure here.  Our first visit was to the Musée Galliera, the fashion museum that is open only for special exhibitions.  It was entirely closed for years, the result of a budget shortfall I was told, but the relatively recently appointed director has mounted several exhibitions in recent years.

This one was a retrospective of fashion photography in Condé Nast magazines from early in the 20th century to now.  Although interesting I was glad I hadn't gone out of my way to see it.  The building itself is lovely, opposite the Palais de Tokyo on Avenue President Wilson.  And so lunch at the restaurant there, Tokyo Eats, was necessary, right?  Surprisingly good and inexpensive. Go if you're in the area.

Our next not-really-art exhibit was the Orient Express at the Insitut du Monde Arabe.  In the entry court are several restored carriages that at one time belonged to the Compagnie Wagon-Lits, which operated the incredibly lavish trains running across Europe from London to Istanbul and parts of the Middle East from the early days of the 20th century until WW II.  These trains transported royalty and the simply rich in great style and served as the location for many a book and film, most particularly Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" which the curators have used to great effect here, setting up the berths to remind viewers of the famous mystery.  They have also set the tables in the dining car to reflect famous passengers including Mata Hari, Graham Greene and Josephine Baker.  The newspapers tossed casually on the tables have videos instead of photos on the front pages, reflecting the events of the time.  It's very well done and the exhibition continues inside the Institut with many more items and pictures and memoribilia.

Yesterday we aimed for the Luxembourg Gardens and the fence surrounding them which is often the setting for photographic exhibits on particular themes.  This being the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the large photos are of locations where that war was fought as they appear today.  Many are aerial shots and it's incredible to see the scars of trench warfare and underground bombing still so clearly visible.  In addition, I tend to forget that the war covered much more territory than the fields of Flanders. It extended to Central Europe, Greece, Palestine and other parts of the Ottoman Empire.  No limit on the killing fields.

It sounds callous as I write it, but after a break for lunch (a recurring theme to our days that you may have noticed) we went down the street to the Musée Luxembourg for an exhibition about Napoleon's Empress Josephine, a woman who wound up far from her childhood home as a planter's daughter in Martinique.  She was an interesting woman and, according to the commentary, one generally thought intelligent, charming and kind.  She also had a jones for jewels.  What is shown here is miniscule based on the size of the cabinet in the exhibit.  It's the size of a large armoire.  A very large armoire.

Later this week we plan to visit the Grand Palais to see this year's Monumenta.  Every year an artist of international reputation is invited to mount an exhibition taking advantage of the enormous volume of the nave of the structure.  In the past the artists have included Anish Kapoor, Anselm Keifer and Christian Boltanski.  This year is a couple, originally Russian, named Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, about whom I know nothing.  We have however seen every Monumenta since the beginning except for last year when we were not in Paris, so we're gonna see this one, by golly!  Whether we like the particular  installation or not, the attempt by each artist to make use of the huge space is worth seeing.

Oh, just so you know, we have reservations for lunch at the Mini Palais, just next door.  No point in changing our habits.

Photos are at